EZG reviews The Herbalist
This base-class is 48 pages (!!!!) long, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 45 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we!
Base-wise, the Herbalist gets d8, 2+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons and the scythe, light armors and shields (but incurs arcane spell failure to have herbs degrade), gets 3/4 BAB-progression, good fort- and will-saves. They also need to have neutral as part of their alignment axis. At first level, they get 1 find herb roll, which is expanded to up to 10 on 20th level. They start with one cultivation pot and can gain up to 6 and also have 2 preservation vessels that are also expanded to up to 6 at 20th level – now all of these concepts I’ll elaborate, but one after the other, so bear with me.
At first level, herbalists learn compressing and applying, as a full-round action, into compresses that apply all benefits of the plants used in them to a willing recipient – first a maximum of 2 herbs, later to a maximum of 6 herbs to be combined in one compress. This can be used 1/day +1 at 3rd level and +1 time for every 3 levels for a maximum of 7/day at 18th level. I also already mentioned cultivation pots and preservation vessels. Cultivation Pots are the means by which herbalists may carry favorite plants with them – 3 units of one plant can be planted in a pot in 10 minutes and over night, the plant grows to full maturity. 1 unit can be harvested from a planted plant per day.
Preservation vessels allow herbalists to maintain plants – units of a plant either collected or otherwise harvested don’t decay over night, providing more control over plant-selection. The amount of plants that can be placed in a preservation vessel depends on the given plant.
By now, you’ll have realized that herbs are crucial – but how are they found? Essentially, the herbalist may collect herbs each day – in order to collect herbs, a herbalist needs to determine which biome s/he currently is in (more on that later). Depending on the biome, a herbalist rolls on the area’s table, which then determines the herbs a herbalist gets. At higher levels, herbalists may roll multiple times, thus gaining much more herbs and more control about them.
Furthermore, at 1st level,2nd level and every 2 levels afterwards, the herbalist also gets a recipe to create unique effects, but again, more on that later. Poison Use and Venom Immunity also are part of a herbalist’s arsenal and herbalists get a so-called green thumb-pool at 3rd level equal to 1/2 class level + wis-mod, rounded won. These points, among others, may be used to save herbalists in areas sans plants – if no plants are available, the whole pool may be expended to create 2 maximum capacity plants from his/her cultivation pots. More common uses would be to expend two points for +1 unit of a plant in one of the cultivation pots, increase poison DCs or reroll their herb foraging rolls, ignore poison immunity with one herb. The capstone adds +5 to the Green Thumb-pool.
We also get favored class options for the core-races, tieflings, aasimar, drow, goblins, hobgoblins, kobolds, orcs and puddlings before getting two archetypes, first of which would be the conservationist: These herbalists gain special cultivation pots – which contain rare herbs and are PERMANENT. These exotic cultivation pots will never hold regular herbs and conservationists start with 1 such pot and get +1 at 5th level and every five levels beyond that – Conservationists thus get unique, rare plants – but at the cost of regular cultivation pots. Unfortunately, we only get 5 such rare plants – here’s potential for more content. One such plant is an extremely potent healing agent (d8 per level, at 10th level even raise dead!), others are leaves that can enchant temporarily weapons to be magical, haste oneself or gain herbalist class levels DR/-. Here we also get lacking spell-italicization as minor editing hick-ups – also, the coolest of the rare plants lacks the herb descriptor -by intention! Why? Because it is not harvested. It is a massive venus mantrap, strapped to the back of the conservationist – these mantraps act as reach weapons that may make one bite attack per round at his BAB, dealing 1d8+wis-mod damage – without taking an action, which is rather neat indeed. And no, you can’t have more than one – they bite each other to death. Still, if the image of a herbalist with a giant man-eating plant strapped to the back doesn’t excite you, what will?
The second archetype herein would be the Flowerchild. Flowerchildren get a wizard’s familiar at first level instead of earthenware (i.e. no cultivation or preservation pots), but said familiar may grow herbs of a chosen standard biome on its back – much like a living chia-pet that also, of course, get advancements over the levels.
All right, I’ve already mentioned biomes – and next up, we get a massive array of tables, each featuring 20 entries: The biomes provided are deserts, forests, grasslands, mountains, tundra and underground and wetlands – as well as wastelands as one custom type of biome created for a specific niche in a given campaign setting. 9 new feats are also provided, allowing you to be able to use extra cultivation via green thumb 2/day, gain +1 cultivation pot, may grow a plant not usually available for cultivation pots in said pots, learn to grow fruit and fungi in pots, gain a green thumb ability to prevents a poison from being consumed by poisoning once or poison weapons quicker with herbs or get standard growth rate for fruit or fungi cultivated in pots (instead of half the rate).
All right, so that’s ALL the other stuff – let’s get down to the herbs themselves! Herbs are eaten, chewed or applied to wounds and follow in application the same rules as using potions. Herbs only work if used by the herbalist who collected them – herbalists applying herbs to others count as using them. Brewed produce made by herbalists go bad over night, but can be used by non-herbalists. Each herb’s entry features a listed biome (or multiple ones), the required capacity the herb has and recipes using them, if applicable. There also are three classes of herbs – herbs, fruit and fungi, with the latter two requiring aforementioned feats to be cultivated.
Beyond these, we get descriptions of the appearances and effects -and here things start getting interesting – while one would expect just duplicated spell-effects, we instead actually get unique abilities for each of the plant – and there are A LOT of herbs in here. Acidbite Lichen, for example, can be used as thrown splash weapons that deals continuous acid damage, whereas acorns can be chewed for enhancement-bonuses to natural armor and arctic poppies actually prevent you from dying from damage, instead stabilizing at 1 point away from death – but the effect only lasts for 1 + 1/5 rounds time-frame, so you better know when you’re about to die! Powerful, but also rather cool and limited enough to keep it from unbalancing the game. Some also have interesting secondary effects – chewing barbary figs, for example, not only nets you 1+ 1/3 class level (max 7) fast healing for one minute AND staves off dehydration for one day – rather important when taking the fact into account that the figs grow in grasslands and deserts…
Moderately powerful poisons can also be found among the herbs, as are bonuses against diseases, increased perceptions, rerolls versus the sickened and nauseated conditions etc. Or take Cattail: The herb can either be used as trail rations OR be used as an impromptu club that explodes upon impact into the seed-like equivalent of the glitterdust spell. And then there’s the chokevine – a whip-like vine that constricts foes upon a successful CMB-attempt (with +1 +1/5 class level as bonus) that not only deals damage via constriction upon hitting and also impedes verbal spellcasting – and honestly, imho a concentration check should still make that possible: Default instantaneous silence feels a bit strong for my conservative tastes, even if the vine can be broken with successful combat maneuvers.
The herbalist can also throw damaging cacti at foes, protect him/herself/allies from fire/cold, heal allies, get rid of poisons at the cost of temporary nausea or, of course, add a massive amount of poison-like herbs on weapons, induce hallucinogenic visions or have a herb-like equivalent of a light-source. You probably get the idea by now – herbs are essentially utility-style resources and for brevity’s sake, I won’t go into details for all of them -just be aware that there’s a LOT going here – even before going into recipes and that apart from the chokevine and e.g. the speech-impeding fool’s parsley that severely impede spellcating, the herbs should not be too powerful for any campaign – in fact, if considered as essentially an alchemist-style jack-of-all-trades that is especially well suited to harassing spellcasters, it works.
But back to recipes – they require Craft (Alchemy) and take an hour. Recipes scale skill-wise nicely with the levels, as they have different skill-DCs and required capacities of varying ingredients limiting the general availability of the recipes. The recipes include gaze-attack negating poisons, glue-bombs, the option to infuse weapon-herbs (like aforementioned vines/clubs) with elemental powers and there also are some truly weird ones – Take the Extremophilic Elixir: It makes you you immune to all negative elemental hazards you are currently exposed to – at a price: When taken in lava, for example, lava-damage is presented – but upon leaving lava, the character takes lava-amount cold-damage unless the elixir has run its course. When imbibed under water, one loses the capability to breathe air – you get the idea. VERY cool idea with A LOT of storytelling potential if handled right by the DM…but the rules-wording is simply not as concise as you’d expect – does adaption to lava also allow you to breathe lava for example and make you choke in air that’s not suffused by toxic volcanic gasses? DMs will need to decide that on a case by case basis and while I’ personally don’t have an issue with that, I do know that some of you will – and unfortunately there are some instances of occurrences like this herein.
Also interesting rules-wise – strawberry wine actually ages in preservation vessels, increasing its potency or take some herbs (and additional cost) to store spells of up to 3rd level into a potion or thrown weapon.
We also get massive tables – one for each biome, with the respective herbs listed including abbreviated effects before getting into one of the best things about this book – the do-it-yourself biome generator for the DM, which includes an easy point-buy-list of herbs to create your own, more varied biomes! We also get empty find herbs and summary-tables for our own biomes.
In the accompanying archive, we get .png-files of the tables and .pub-files for maximum convenience.
Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect – I noticed a couple of instances where spells were not italicized and 2 minor glitches, but not enough to rate this down. Layout adheres to Interjection Games’ 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf’s artworks are really fitting stock artworks of plants. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Oh boy. This took me forever to get done. Why? Because ANY class that features a not wholly reliable source of primary power is so much more complex to properly judge. Usually, I’m not keen on terrain-dependent classes, since their balancing usually makes them too powerful, or more commonly, too weak. The Herbalist manages to nicely offset the pitfalls of design like this by virtue of its means of preserving herbs and growing them in pots – which allows for some control without invalidating the basic idea of the class. In contrast to e.g. the Gypsy, the Herbalist also does not wilder in spells, but gets its very own, massive array of unique abilities, which gets two thumbs up as far as I’m concerned.
Throwing lethal cacti or botanic bombs at foes while a mantrap on your back bites any foes who dare come near you not only makes for an interesting character concept, but for a fun proposition for a playing experience. Judging the balance of this class was mostly the reason this review to me forever to finalize – while some of the herbs offer rather powerful effects (especially the no-verbal-component-casting herbs feeling a bit powerful), they ultimately have to be earned by harvesting and are not reliably available, necessitating some planning on behalf of the player and also meaning that herbalists will, at least partially, need to be versatile in their roles on the battleground and change tactics depending on the herbs available.
In the end, I tend to consider the class well-crafted, though I would have e.g. enjoyed more conservationist rare plants to choose from. The biome-generator and massive amount of different options thus available for enterprising DMs is yet another glorious addition to the pdf that makes a massive difference in how useful the pdf is. Without it, you’d be seeing me complaining hard right now, but its presence makes a massive difference. Now this class is not particularly cheap, but what you get for your bucks is a class that can be honestly considered completely DIFFERENT from ANY class I’ve read for PFRPG. In an interview in Pathways #27 designer Bradley Crouch stated that he’d like to be more of a designer in the mad genius-vein – and this pdf shows.
I wouldn’t have expected to ever see a class that features some abilities that are this weird, a herb-based class that is based on extraordinary/supernatural abilities etc. – and honestly, this class build had the potential to easily go wrong in vast amounts of ways. Thankfully, author Bradley Crouch has managed to evade most of the pitfalls and instead provides us one complex, easy to start playing, yet difficult to master class that dares to be different from established class designs – while it sometimes uses mechanics that could be simpler or closer to established design-standards, while it feels a bit jury-rigged here and there, that also works somewhat in its favor, enhancing its distinct flavor while admittedly sometimes feeling a bit clunky.
When all’s said and done, though, I do consider this class fun and while a wording here and there could be slightly more concise, there was no instance where I was confused as to the effect of the respective powers.
Hence, my final verdict will clock in with two scores – 4 stars for those of you who are nitpicky about aforementioned minor gripes. And for those willing to make some decisions on the fly, with a tolerance for a slightly jury-rigged feeling on the designs side, 5 stars – and usually I’d omit my seal of approval, but quite frankly, I’d wish for more classes to be this courageous, unique and interesting. Hence I’ll keep it – 5 stars + seal of approval for one truly DIFFERENT class that offers a unique playing experience – just be aware that there are a couple of slightly rough patches to be found herein and try to determine to which type of player/DM you’d belong. And in case you wondered: I count myself part of the latter category.